Our View: Hip to county’s chip flip
November 12, 2011
Kudos to the Routt County Board of Commissioners for rejecting a chip-and-seal road policy recommendation that would have represented a step backward in the community's worthwhile effort to become a top bicycling destination.
Perhaps more impressive was the commissioners' request for a study of whether quarter-inch and smaller gravel could be used to overlay certain county roads. Small chips such as those, combined with increased attention given to the chip-and-seal process as it extends to the far edge of the road surface, could make the travel experience better for all road users as well as reduce longstanding conflict between cyclists and motorists.
The chip-and-seal debate isn't new here, but it's been seven years since it flared up like it did this past week. Counties like ours use the chip-and-seal method to resurface roads because it's significantly cheaper than asphalt overlays. Chip-and-seal road surfaces aren't as smooth as their asphalt counterparts, but the degree of smoothness largely is determined by the size of chips used in the process.
After passionate debate in 2004, the county agreed to use chips three-eighths of an inch in size for resurfacing county roads. The road cycling community mostly has been pleased with that policy decision. But the size of chips used by the Road and Bridge Department became an issue again this summer after a section of Routt County Road 14 was chip-and-sealed using a double layer of three-quarter-inch chips. Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper said the county simply was trying to build up the structural integrity of a section of road that lacked a strong foundation.
The county's Multi-Modal Road Users Advisory Board, which has broad representation from cyclists, the agriculture industry and others, came forward last week with a recommendation that the county use chips no larger than one-half-inch in size when chip-and-sealing 11 high-use county roads, including C.R. 14, 27 and 33.
Wisely, the commissioners dismissed that recommendation, recalling their decision seven years ago to use chips three-eighths of an inch or smaller. They also asked Draper to contact Boulder County officials about the effectiveness of quarter-inch chips and whether they could be used here. Finally, Commissioner Doug Monger requested that the Road and Bridge Department look at ways it could better prepare the shoulders of chip-and-sealed county roads to make it safer and more enjoyable for cyclists to stay to the right of the white lines.
The county commissioners were spot-on last week. And if they really want to impress, they'll see to it that the Road and Bridge Department adopts a policy of using quarter-inch and smaller gravel in the future. Doing so will represent one of the county's biggest contributions to date toward the Bike Town USA Initiative, not to mention safer roads for all users.